This is the text of a speech I have delivered on many occasions to many groups, usually around Independence Day. I know this is a bit long for a blog post, but I hope you will enjoy it and pass the message along.
“For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world…
We shall shame the faces of many… and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.”
The words of the Pilgrim John Winthrop.
The image of the “city on a hill,” of course, comes from the Gospel of Matthew — the words of Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount.
The “work [the Pilgrims] had undertaken” was a new life in a new world, free from persecution.
And the “present help” he referred to was the chance to reach the destination toward which his people were sailing when he delivered that sermon aboard the ship Arbella in the Spring of 1630, somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean en route to the New World.
This is not Christian revisionism — this is American history.
From the earliest days of American civilization, the inhabitants of this continent have understood that the abundant wealth of resources and opportunity found in the New World is not man-made nor an accident of nature — but the generosity of our Heavenly Father.
In other words, not only was America a shining city on a hill, but Americans knew from the first that they were not the ones who screwed in the light bulb.
America is not an accident.
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The United States, the freedoms we enjoy, the unprecedented success of our shared history, are not an accident.
Consider the moments in our days as a nation when all seemed lost, and the hopes of billions inched to the brink of darkness.
On March 15, 1783, in Newburgh, New York — in the midst of the Revolution — the officers of the Continental Army gathered to plan an insurrection against the United States and demand money from the individual state legislatures.
As the officers readied their mutiny, Commanding General George Washington rose among them, and gave the most important speech ever delivered on this continent.
He moved his officers to tears, and quelled the revolt.
On the other side of the world, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and John Adams negotiated the Treaty of Paris, and the United States won its independence from Great Britain.
What were Washington’s thoughts on American governance?
He said, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”
Jump ahead to the War of 1812, during which the capital city was burned by the British, and the young American Republic hung by a thread, but was held together by our commander-in-chief, James Madison, who said,
“To the same Divine Author of every good and perfect gift, we are indebted for all those privileges and advantages, religious as well as civil, which are so richly enjoyed in this favored land.”
If a politician said that today, people would howl that such sentiments violate the United States Constitution — a fact which would come as some surprise to Mr. Madison, who, after all, wrote it.
Jumping forward a few years, the New World found itself in its greatest struggle, when America went to war against itself between 1861 and 1865.
In the summer of 1864, the Union had been led by weak generals into failure after failure.
Public support in the Union for President Lincoln and the war had dwindled, and he seemed all but certain to lose the November elections to his former commander, General George McClellan, who was running on a promise to get the North out of the war.
But Lincoln knew the justice of the cause.
He knew that the terrifying hand of Providence was being laid upon the American nation as a penance for the great, godless sin of slavery.
In the midst of the war, Lincoln — as he always did — put his trust in God, saying,
“It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow… and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history:
That those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.”
Eighty years later, when the United States — and indeed, the whole world — stared into the abyss of true evil, the new world rose up to save the old.
In the hours before the D-Day invasion began — when the free men of the West stood up against barbarism — General Dwight Eisenhower included as part of the order gave that initiated Operation Overlord:
“I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle.
We will accept nothing less than full victory.
Good luck, and let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”
His commander-in-chief, President Roosevelt, expressed himself on the war this way in 1944:
“In this year of liberation, which has seen so many millions freed from tyrannical rule, it is fitting that we give thanks with special fervor to our Heavenly Father for the mercies we have received individually, and as a nation for the blessings he has restored, through the victories of our arms and those of our allies, to His children in other lands.”
Decades later, when America again faced evil — this time in the form of Soviet Communism — Ronald Reagan willed our nation to rise up from its relativist doldrums and speak God’s truth to the world.
He called the Soviet Union — responsible for the murder of 20 million innocent Russians — an “evil empire,” and exhorted his countrymen to remember the moral and religious foundations of democracy itself:
He said, “The truth is, politics and morality are inseparable.
And as morality's foundation is religion, religion and politics are necessarily related. We need religion as a guide.
We need it because we are imperfect, and our government needs the church, because only those humble enough to admit they're sinners can bring to democracy the tolerance it requires in order to survive.”
This is the story of American history — a story of men serving their God and nation, and thereby the cause of human freedom around the world.
The story of a secular government, to be sure, but of a faithful nation that humbly and gratefully accepts the role in global affairs that history and Providence have thrust upon it.
I repeat: America is not an accident.
It is not an accident that the most church-going nation in the world is also the richest and strongest.
It is not an accident that the most faithful, hopeful, and charitable nation on earth is also the one most hated by the forces of evil — be they Nazi, Communist, or terrorist.
The men who founded this nation did so on the proposition that all men are born equal in the eyes of God, and endowed by that God with the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Those men swore their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor on that proposition, so help them God.
And, as we know, God did indeed help them and their descendants repel the British, free the slaves, settle the west, save Europe twice, send a man to the moon, and end Soviet tyranny.
The history of our nation and the men who have built and defended it teaches us nothing if not this:
We are a providential nation, serving the cause of justice and freedom everywhere in the world.
For more than 200 years, every time the history of human freedom has needed a champion to rise against a new and terrifying enemy, an American of faith has risen.
Washington, Lincoln, Eisenhower and Roosevelt, Reagan.
I believe we are facing just such a moment today.
We are a society that abides abortion on demand, mocks marriage, and in many ways treats Christianity like a second-rate superstition.
But despite all the dark trouble that seems to be closing in around us, God has once again sent to our nation a hero, who will put right what has gone wrong, and stand up for His freedom, His justice, and His law.
That hero... is you.
We are a Providential nation, and as such, despite all the disheartening sinfulness we see every day, we live among Providential people.
They are the people in this church, and in churches across the country today, who serve their fellow man — and, by extension, their Lord.
They are the people who have been chosen by God to live in these amazing times of discovery, opportunity, and danger.
If you ever look around at all the trouble in the world and wonder why you have to live during such a tumultuous era, the answer is simple: because God wants you to.
We have been chosen to live as Christians at a time when our culture is being poisoned and our world is being threatened…
At a time when sides are being chosen, and the future of man hangs in the balance.
And God made us specifically for it.
Think about that.
The God of Abraham, of the Bible, Jesus Christ Himself made us just so that we could live in this nation, at this time.
It is a time of violence and death and oppression, but it is also a time of freedom and hope.
Living in these days is not a curse, but a blessing.
The enemies of virtue may be on the march, but they have not won.
And if we put our trust in Christ, they never will.
For no matter how powerful the evil before us may be, it is nothing compared to the power and glory of God.
It is to us, then, to do as our heroes always have, and put our faith in the perfect, redeeming love of Jesus Christ.
We cannot know on this July 4th what God’s plan is for each of us, or for our nation, but we can know this:
America has been for more than two centuries the great wellspring of human freedom and the great defender of human dignity.
Our nation has a special commission in the affairs of men, and every generation of Americans — however flawed — has met it.
And so, by the Grace of God, will we.
Evil will be confronted.
Nations will be freed.
Morality will be defended.
And the innocent will be made safe.
In democracies, the greatest leaders aren’t the ones in the House of Representatives, but in houses of God around the nation.
Though we must stand up to our enemies, we must first kneel down to God, and ask his blessing for our country and our countrymen.
And when we pray this July Fourth, let it be a prayer that our Providential Nation remain a shining city on a hill for as long as man yearns to be free, until, in the fullness of time, we find our way to the New World God has promised to all men who follow Him.